The Lockerbie Bombing
and the U.S.S. Vincennes
By Peter Meyer
Updates: 2001-01-31 2003-08-31 2004-02-25 2005-08-29 2009-08-20 2011-06-16 2012-02-27
The trial of the two Libyan "suspects" in the Lockerbie bombing case finally opened in the Netherlands on May 3rd, 2000. It is expected to last a year, far longer than the public's attention span. [A verdict was finally handed down on January 31st, 2001.]
The key word to watch for in the testimony is "Vincennes". In July 1988 the US Navy battle cruiser Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board. It was, of course, claimed by the US Navy that this was "an accident". Sure. Just one of those little mistakes that happen from time to time. And pigs can fly.
In December 1988 a bomb exploded aboard Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 270 people on board, including 189 Americans. It is widely believed that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the destruction of the Iranian airliner, specifically, that Iran (and possibly other Middle Eastern states) paid a Palestinian group (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command) to do the deed.
This is likely, although not proven. What will be interesting is to see if this explanation is allowed any time in court. Obviously the U.S. doesn't want people to consider the possibility that the Pan Am attack was simply (and understandably) an act of revenge for the wanton murder of 290 people aboard the Iranian airliner (some of whom were on pilgrimage to Mecca).
Why did the U.S. accuse Libya of being behind the bombing when the involvement of Iran (and perhaps Syria) was obviously more likely? Because in 1991 the U.S. needed to have Iran and Syria lined up in the "coalition" directed against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. To accuse them of involvement in the Pan Am bombing would have been politically inexpedient. And, of course, to accuse Iran would be to remind the world of the murder of the 290 people on board the Iranian plane.
Was the Captain of the Vincennes court-martialled for this murder? After an official enquiry he was awarded (by George H. Bush in 1990) the Legion of Merit award for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of an outstanding service". When mass murder is described by a U.S. President as "an outstanding service" one has to wonder what other insanities may be present in the mind of whoever is currently the leader of the militarily most powerful nation on Earth.
- John Ashton: US Government Still on Ropes Over Lockerbie (Also here.)
- Patrick Goodenough: Was Iran Behind Lockerbie? (Archived here.)
- Noam Chomsky: Libya (Archived here.)
- Steve James: Pan Am 103: Iranian defector alleges Tehran linked to Lockerbie bombing
In January 2001 in a trial of two Libyans in the Hague one defendant was convicted and one was acquitted, but few questions were answered. The evidence for conviction was not compelling. The Maltese shopkeeper actually sold clothes to several Arab men looking somewhat like the defendant. The timing device may have been of the sort purchased by the Libyans, but it may have been purchased from the same source by Palestinians. There is no real evidence that any suitcase put aboard a plane in Malta ever found its way onto Pan Am 103 in Frankfurt. Various investigators (including Vincent Cannistraro, who led the CIA investigation, 1988-1990) have said that the bombing was more likely carried out by PFLP-GC, but these investigators were not called as witnesses for the defense.
Lurking behind all this is the theory that the suitcase containing the bomb was actually put aboard Pan Am 103 in Frankfurt by CIA operatives believing that the suitcase contained heroin; just another of their usual weekly shipments, part of their complex Middle Eastern spook operations. Like the shooting down of TWA Flight 800, if true this could never be admitted by those who know. Will the truth will ever become known to the public?
Lockerbie farmer Jim Wilson found a suitcase full of cellophane packets containing white powder among the debris in his fields. The suitcase was taken away, no explanation was given, and the authorities continued to insist that no drugs (apart from a small quantity of cannabis) had been found on the plane. But it was later discovered that the name Mr Wilson saw on the suitcase did not correspond with any of the names on the Pan Am 103 passenger list. — Lockerbie conspiracies: from A to Z
In August 2003 Libya agreed to pay US$2.7 billion to the relatives of the Lockerbie victims. This was done so that the U.S. and the U.N. would remove sanctions against Libya which have prevented U.S. firms from investing in Libya and providing expertise to assist its ageing oil industry. Libya admitted "formal" responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, a form of words demanded by the U.S., but denied actual responsibility.
In an interview on 2004-02-24 with BBC reporter Mike Thomson the Libyan Prime Minister Mr Shukri Ghanem stated that Libya was not behind the Lockerbie bombing and that Libya had agreed to pay compensation to the victims only to "buy peace" and to escape sanctions which had been imposed by the U.N. and the U.S.
The U.S. State Department, horrified by the possibility that some people might doubt the truth of the U.S. claim regarding Libya's responsibility for Lockerbie, immediately demanded a retraction of the prime minister's statements, threatening to maintain its ban on U.S. citizens travelling to Libya (including experts to arrive soon to modernize Libya's oil industry). Libya "complied" by stating that it had helped bring two suspects to justice "and accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials" — without stating what those actions were (consular duties, perhaps?).
- BBC: Libyan PM denies country's guilt
- News24: Libya 'bought' Lockerbie peace
- Reuters: Libyan PM denies Tripoli involved in Lockerbie
So, to summarize, this is probably what happened:
- In July 1988 the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board.
- The Iranians hired a Palestinian terrorist group, the PFLP-GC (known to have connections with CIA drug-smuggling operations), to exact revenge.
- In December 1988 operatives of the PFLP-GC managed to replace one of the suitcases containing CIA heroin, and destined to be transported on Pan Am Flight 103 to the U.S., with a suitcase containing a bomb.
- CIA operatives (perhaps the same people as the PFLP-GC operatives) placed this suitcase on the Pan Am plane as part of the CIA's normal drug-smuggling operations.
- The bomb exploded over Lockerbie, killing 189 Americans. The Iranians got their revenge.
- The U.S., anxious to conceal the role played by the CIA, blamed Libya, imposed crippling economic sanctions in an effort to force Libya to "admit" guilt, and persuaded the U.N. to do the same.
- In 2000 a show trial was staged in the Hague which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of a Libyan official.
- After years of economic hardship Libya decided it was better to pay billions of dollars and formally "admit guilt" in order to have the sanctions lifted.
- The real perpetrators of the bombing remain unidentified.
The next year, when a terrorist bomb brought down PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, it seems the NSA gained information by intercepting the communications of Iranian Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi. It was apparently these messages that implicated Iran, not Libya.
One intelligence summary, prepared by the US Air Force Intelligence Agency, cites Iran's Mohtashemi as the mastermind. Released in redacted form pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by lawyers for the bankrupt Pan American Airlines, it states: Mohtashemi is closely connected with the Al Abas and Abu Nidal terrorist groups. He is actually a long-time friend of Abu Nidal. He has recently paid 10 million dollars in cash and gold to these two organizations to carry out terrorist activities and was the one who paid the same amount to bomb PanAm Flight 103 in retaliation for the U.S. shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus. Mohtashemi has also spent time in Lebanon.
An Israeli intercept of Iranian diplomatic coded communications between Mohtashemi's Interior Ministry in Teheran and the Iranian embassy in Beirut (where Mohtashemi once served as ambassador) revealed more than two years before Buehler was arrested by Iran that the Shi-ite cleric transferred $1.2 to $2 million used for the bombing of PanAm 103 to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command headed by Ahmed Jibril.
— Wayne Madsen: Crypto AG: The NSA's Trojan Whore?
It seems that the evidence which convicted Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, currently serving a life sentence in Greenock Prison, Scotland, was planted by the CIA. According to The Scotsman, 2005-08-28:
A former Scottish police chief has given lawyers a signed statement claiming that key evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated.
The retired officer — of assistant chief constable rank or higher — has testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people. ...
The vital evidence that linked the bombing of Pan Am 103 to Megrahi was a tiny fragment of circuit board which investigators found in a wooded area many miles from Lockerbie months after the atrocity.
The fragment was later identified by the FBI's Thomas Thurman as being part of a sophisticated timer device used to detonate explosives, and manufactured by the Swiss firm Mebo, which supplied it only to Libya and the East German Stasi. ...
The fragment of circuit board therefore enabled Libya - and Megrahi - to be placed at the heart of the investigation. However, Thurman was later unmasked as a fraud who had given false evidence in American murder trials, and it emerged that he had little in the way of scientific qualifications.
Then, in 2003, a retired CIA officer gave a statement to Megrahi's lawyers in which he alleged evidence had been planted.
The decision of a former Scottish police chief to back this claim could add enormous weight to what has previously been dismissed as a wild conspiracy theory. It has long been rumoured the fragment was planted to implicate Libya for political reasons.
On August 20, 2009, the Scottish government announced that the only person convicted in the 2000-2001 Lockerbie trial (a trial without a jury), Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was to be released (on medical and "compassionate" grounds).
His decision to end his appeal against conviction, made under tremendous pressure, puts an end to [a long] series of trials, appeals and hearings ...
In 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), the organisation tasked with investigation into miscarriages of justice, announced that in their opinion there was "no reasonable basis" to place Megrahi in Malta where he had been identified as allegedly purchasing clothing later found to have been wrapped around the bomb. The review agreed that a miscarriage of justice may have taken place and authorised a further appeal. The 800-page SCCRC report has never been published.
Key items, in addition to the disputed identification of Megrahi by Maltese shop keeper Tony Gauci, that might be explored in open court at an appeal include the break-in at Heathrow airport adjacent to where PanAm 103 was parked on the evening prior to the attack. In addition, in 2007, in an affidavit to a Swiss court by Ulrich Lumpert, manufacturer, along with Edmund Bollier of MEBO AG, of the MST13 circuit board alleged to have triggered the bomb, admitted that the MST13 fragment produced in court in 2001 was from a non-operational circuit board handed to Lockerbie investigators in 1989.
At stake are extremely valuable British interests. A $25 billion deal between British Petroleum and the Libyan National Oil Corporation has already been signed for the exploration of the Sirte basin, an offshore area the size of Belgium. However, according to Dr Bassam Fattouh at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Libya has proved to be a "difficult business environment" for BP. The expectation is that bureaucratic and planning obstacles would melt away in the aftermath of Megrahi's return.
— Steve James, US-British conflict over release of Libyan convicted of Lockerbie bombing
- Letter from Capt. Habib Ahmadzadeh of the Iranian Navy to U.S. Navy Capt. William Rogers
- "I'LL REVEAL TRUE IDENTITY OF BOMBER"
- Marcello Mega: CIA Involvement: Police chief: Lockerbie evidence was faked
CIA planted tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people.
And why did Al Megrahi receive a hero's welcome when he stepped off the plane in Tripoli, a welcome which (supposedly) outraged the U.S. and U.K. governments? (White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the welcoming scenes in Libya were "outrageous and disgusting", while Gordon Brown said he was "angry and repulsed".) Megrahi received a hero's welcome because he had agreed in 2000 (in order to serve the interests of his country) to stand trial in Scotland for a crime which he did not commit, and as a result subsequently endured eight years in prison.
American officials, British officials, and Scottish officials know that Megrahi is innocent. They know that Iran financed the PFLP-GC, a Palestinian group, to carry out the bombing with the cooperation of Syria, in retaliation for the American naval ship, the Vincennes, shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in July of the same year, which took the lives of more people than did the 103 bombing. And it should be pointed out that the Vincennes captain, plus the officer in command of air warfare, and the crew were all awarded medals or ribbons afterward. No one in the US government or media found this objectionable or outrageous, or disgusting or repulsive. The United States has always insisted that the shooting down of the Iranian plane was an "accident". Why then give awards to those responsible? — William Blum: PanAm 103 Over Lockerbie
In Three Deadly War Myths Robert Parry writes:
Today's third deadly myth is Washington's certainty that Libyan dictator Gaddafi was responsible for the Pan Am 103 attack and thus must be removed from power by force and possibly by assassination. ...
In 2007, after the testimony of a key witness [Toni Gauci, owner of a clothing store in Malta who allegedly sold Megrahi a shirt ... [[and]] reportedly received a $2 million reward for his testimony against Megrahi] was discredited, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission agreed to reconsider the conviction as a grave miscarriage of justice. ...
The rest of the case rested on a theory that Megrahi put the luggage on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to a connecting flight to London, where it was transferred onto Pan Am 103 bound for New York, a decidedly unlikely way to undertake an act of terrorism given all the random variables involved.
Megrahi would have had to assume that three separate airport security systems — at Malta, Frankfurt and London — would fail to give any serious scrutiny to an unaccompanied suitcase or to detect the bomb despite security officials being on the lookout for just such a threat.
As historian William Blum recounted in a Consortiumnews.com article after Megrahi's 2001 conviction, "The case for the suitcase's hypothetical travels must also deal with the fact that, according to Air Malta, all the documented luggage on KM180 was collected by passengers in Frankfurt and did not continue in transit to London, and that two Pan Am on-duty officials in Frankfurt testified that no unaccompanied luggage was introduced onto Pan Am 103A, the feeder flight to London."
Updates 2012-02-27 and 2014-03-14
Al Jazeera: New evidence casts doubt in Lockerbie case
The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (SCCRC) report details evidence that would likely have resulted in the verdict against Abdel Baset al-Meghrahi, a Libyan man convicted of carrying out the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 in 1988, being overturned. ...
Among the evidence examined by the SCCRC was the testimony of Tony Gauci, a shop owner from Malta, and the most important prosecution witness in the case. Gauci identified Megrahi as a man who had bought clothing and an umbrella from him on December 7, 1988 — remnants of which were later recovered from among debris recovered from the disaster scene. The SCCRC found a number of reasons to seriously question this identification and Gauci’s account of events on that date ...
The report also raises concerns about the legitimacy of the formal identification process, in which Gauci picked Megrahi out from a line-up. The commission found that Gauci had seen Megrahi’s photo in a magazine article identifying him as a possible suspect many weeks before the parade took place. The SCCRC also found that Scottish police knew that Gauci was interested in financial rewards, despite maintaining that the shopkeeper had shown no such interest. Gauci reportedly picked up a $2 million US government reward for his role in the case.
Al Jazeera: Lockerbie: What really happened?
[Our 2012 report] also showed how new scientific tests comprehensively undermined the validity of the most significant piece of evidence linking the bombing to al-Megrahi and Libya — a fragment of electronic timer found embedded in the shredded remains of a shirt, supposedly bought by the convicted man in Malta.
The timer, the prosecution had claimed, was identical to ones sold to Libyan intelligence by a Swiss manufacturer. But as our investigation proved, it was not identical — a fact that must have been known to British government scientists all along.
Now, in our third and most disturbing investigation, we answer the question left hanging at the end of our last programme: if al-Megrahi was not guilty of the Lockerbie bombing, then who was?
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